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Divorce settlement agreements and child support issues

Texas law holds that both parents must support their child up to the age of majority or the time of emancipation. Although they maybe required by the court to continue making payments until after they graduate high school, in most cases the expectation of financial contribution ends on the child's 18th birthday. This is not changed by divorce, though the situation may become more complicated.

However, not all states agree that the parents' economic responsibility for children ends at age eighteen, and there is always a possibility that a divorce agreement may contain stipulations for support until the child completes their education. It can be instructive to look at a recent decision by an appellate court in New Jersey in this regard.

The case involved the interpretation of a divorce settlement agreement between the father and his ex-wife concerning their daughter, who was attending a local university and estranged from her father at the time. According to the language of the agreement, the parents agreed to equally share the costs of their daughter's postgraduate education should she decide to enter a postgraduate program or go to law school. Subsequently, she was accepted into a prestigious private law school with high tuition. The father cited several reasons why he should not be required to pay half her tuition, including the fact that he was not consulted as to her choice of school and that there were several less expensive schools available.

The court ruled against him, noting that the language of the agreement did not specify her choice of school or any of the other stipulations he requested. Courts are always hesitant to rewrite a contract or to add conditions to a contract that were not there in the beginning. The advice of a lawyer in preparing a settlement agreement may be helpful in avoiding situations such as these.http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/FA/htm/FA.154.htm

Source: The Huffington Post, "Divorce Settlements and Higher Education", Brad Reid, March 13, 2014

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